How to Prepare for the C1 Advanced Exam
It’s a good idea to start your preparation by taking a whole practice test. You can find several free practice tests here and here. It’s also a good idea to take practice tests regularly throughout your preparation, to practice your exam skills and to evaluate your progress.
Create a Study Plan
If you’re serious about passing the exam, you should create a flexible study plan to organise your time effectively and check your progress.
Free Activities to Help You Practice English
Cambridge Language Assessment offers some free for a number of skills here (look for activities labelled C1).
Topics & Vocabulary
The exam includes a large range of different topics which can include a range of subjects such as Education, the Environment, Art, Family, Health, Technology, Work, Communication, Food, Exercise, Society, Crime, Business, Culture, Entertainment, Language and others.
Keep a Vocabulary Notebook
It’s a good idea to start keeping a vocabulary notebook to note down new words and phrases connected with different topics which you find from reading, listening and studying.
In conjunction with, or in place of, your vocabulary notebook, you might like to try using a vocabulary learning app. like Quizlet. You can use this to make your own vocabulary flashcards, you can then test yourself regularly using the different test formats it offers.
Use a Good Dictionary
When you find new words, you shouldn’t just rely on translation apps to find their meanings. Use a good dictionary such as the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary, so you can check words in context, check pronunciation and look up word families.
The Reading paper tests a variety of skills including reading for detail, opinion, purpose, understanding and comparing attitudes, and understanding the structure and development of a text.
Different types of text
You should read often and read a variety of texts. News articles, although often quite short, are good practice if you read articles on different subjects. Not only will this help you learn key vocabulary for a number of topics, it will help you gain some understanding of different topics, which will help you predict text content in the exam. Graded Readers designed for your level are very helpful, choose subjects (fiction or non-fiction) which interest you.
However many words you learn, you will always find words and phrases you don’t know. In an exam you cannot look up the meaning of these words, so it’s very important to practice guessing meaning from context. When you find a word or expression you’ve never seen before, try to guess what it means from the sentence or any pictures around it, before you use a dictionary.
Use of English
This part of the paper tests grammar and vocabulary. Advanced vocabulary includes collocation, idiom, phrasal verbs and shades of meaning.
Using a Tapescript
One problem learners have when listening to native English speakers stems from the fact that English is a stress-timed language and so we tend to ‘swallow’ certain words and syllables, which makes it difficult to hear them, and emphasise others. Usually the words which are difficult to hear are grammatical (function) words. Shadowing is useful to build up your awareness of this. Just practicing listening with a tapescript will help.
Listening regularly to a variety of communications (speeches, conversations etc.) on a variety of subjects is good practice. As with the reading, news and current affairs sources will help you build your vocabulary and awareness of topics.
The test uses a variety of native-speaker accents, so it’s important to listen to speakers from the UK, America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A good website for authentic English listening practice with a range of accents is www.real-english.com.
Before you listen, think about the topic and the kinds of things you might hear. Use any titles, introductions, or accompanying pictures available to help predict possible content. Then think about any questions you might have about the subject (the questions can be as simple as ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Why’, ‘Who’, ‘How’). Listen and see if you can answer your questions. After listening a couple of times, try listening again with the tapescript, subtitles or closed captions. Then note any new keywords in your vocabulary notebook.
While listening practise your note-taking. Notes should be quick to write and easily understood by you. Your notes don’t need to be understood by anyone else so find abbreviations and symbols that work for you.
Reading for Writing
Reading really helps you improve your writing, so read a lot and often. As well as news and current affairs, you could try graded readers, fiction or non-fiction
C1 Test Samples
It’s a good idea to look at C1 Advanced writing samples and to analyse the writing. How is the text laid out? How many paragraphs does it have? What does each paragraph contain? How is the text started and finished? How does the text answer the question? What kind of vocabulary does it use? What kind of grammatical structures does it use? What grade did the text receive? Does it have the examiner’s comments?
Planning and Checking
You should practice writing test questions and time yourself. Always, always, always plan your writing. For the exam we suggest you spend 5 minutes planning your writing – a good plan actually saves you time when you write. It’s important to practice writing plans, because 5 minutes isn’t very long. You should always spend 5 minutes at the end checking your writing. It’s a good idea, when you’re doing this at home, to put your writing aside when you’ve finished it and re-read it a day or two later. Doing this helps you see any mistakes you’ve made. Make a note of the kind of mistakes you usually make (using prepositions? Punctuation? Subject-Verb agreement? etc), so you know what to work on and what to look for in the exam.
Sample Test Videos
You can find a lot of videos of C1 Advanced Speaking tests. You can usually watch these with the Closed Captions (CC) on to help understand.
- Note the questions the examiner uses.
- Pause the recording and think about what you would say.
- Listen to the students. What vocabulary do they use? What grammar do they use? Do they make mistakes? Is their pronunciation clear? Do they often pause and hesitate? How long do they have to speak for?
- Look at the grade they got. Can you see why they got that grade?
You can practice your speaking using a recording and transcription programme like Otter.ai. Use the questions you’ve noted from the videos you’ve watched or the practice tests. Time yourself. It’s a good idea to read & listen back to your speaking. What kind of mistakes did you make? How could you make it better? Try recording the same answers again a day or so later, is it better?
Shadowing is very useful, especially for grammatical fluency. Shadowing helps you with rhythm and intonation as well as helping fix word order in your mind.
You can find some good pronunciation practice at BBC Learning English.
You can practice your spoken grammar using Shadowing.
It’s a good idea to get a good grammar practice book like ‘Grammar In Use’ for explanations and exercises.
Although there is a lot of work you can do on your own to prepare for the C1 Advanced Exam, it can be helpful to take classes. Tailor Made Teaching offers classes tailored to you, your specific needs and preferred ways of learning. Get in touch to ask about one-to-one or small group classes.